I find it difficult and morally challenging to blather on about travel while so many people have nowhere to call home. So, the Diaries will be taking a short hiatus while my country attempts to pry its head out of its ass and do the right thing by reaching out and welcoming the refugees on its doorstep. Until then, there are actual things to be done with my time…
Spread the word:
Open the doors!
Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
– John Donne
To me, travel isn’t just about seeing new sights or eating new sorts of food or driving new and unknown stretches of highway. Really, it’s about border crossings: not the sort of crossing that requires visas and passports, but the sort that demands a willingness to embrace the Other, an openness to the lives and stories of the people we meet, however briefly, as we go.
Every journey is a border crossing.
In light of the happenings in Paris last Friday, I thought I’d share a few of my own border experiences, beginning with one I find quite apropos…
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Christmas Day, 2012. Bernalillo, New Mexico.
It started off with an interesting twist. We went next door to fill up the car, and a Muslim wished me a Merry Christmas. Not a Happy Holiday. A Merry Christmas. We had first met him the day before, deep in conversation with another customer about the merits and nature of Jesus Christ, and whether or not one needed that “personal relationship” to make it to heaven. He wasn’t angry. He didn’t even appear to be slightly annoyed. He merely listened to what the patron had to say and politely disagreed. And then, to top it all off, he went and wished me a Merry Christmas. I thought about telling him he wasn’t supposed to do that, that as a Muslim he was supposed to hate Christians and everything they stand for, including and especially one of their chief holidays. (One wonders if anyone has ever bothered to ask him how Ramadan is going.) I thought about reminding him that, as a soldier in the ongoing culture wars, he ought to be burning manger scenes right and left, and doing all he could to take the “Christ” out of Christmas. But I just didn’t have the heart…
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October 10, 2013. Living Desert State Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Later, as I entered the gift shop in search of the mandatory refrigerator magnet, I asked the woman behind the counter how her day was going. She looked at me for a moment, and responded, “Are you sure you want to know?” Hmmm. “Well,” I replied, “I asked.” As it turned out, her mother had just undergone knee surgery in Lubbock, Texas, and was at that point waiting to be discharged and sent home, a long, cramped trip for someone whose leg had just been cut open. Sometimes, that one little question–“How are you today?”–sincerely asked, is all it takes to create a sense of camaraderie, of fellow feeling, between two people. And it is too rarely sincerely asked. By the time I left the shop ten minutes later, I knew where she was from (Alaska) and why she came to New Mexico (her parents retired); she knew where I was from and why I’m on this little trip of mine. It was a short-lived connection, but a real one. This is the goal, my friends: coming together, however momentarily, as real people. Stranger danger, indeed!
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Christmas Eve, 2012. Santa Fe, New Mexico.
And so, Day 1 draws to a close, as Tammy and I stumble blindly through the door of a small Italian bistro called Mangiamo Pronto! (could there BE a better name than that?), looking like a pair of abominable snowmen who took a wrong turn at the Pole, and calling for a well-deserved cup of espresso. And, you know what? No one yelled at us as we dripped melting snow all over the table, floor, and proximate patrons. Not even close. An elderly gentlemen glanced up warmly and remarked, “Looks like snow.” And before we knew it, we were deep in conversation, having discovered that he and my grandparents hailed from the same Central Texas town…
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We are not so different from one another as our rugged individualism might suggest. Nothing reveals this truth like the open road, traveled with an open heart.
Find your borders, and cross them!
At the bottom of this hole, dark, seemingly endless, there is a light. That light doesn’t come from above, from “out there”; it comes from within; it shines from the inside out, born in each of us, activated by the touch of the Other, passed from person to person as from wick to wick, flames lit through contact with other flames: a shared brilliance, perhaps hidden by what separates, but never quite extinguished because of that which unites us all.
We are one.
At the bottom of this hole, there is a light.
Let it shine…
Nine miles west of Passaic on Highway F, at the intersection of Elkhart and West Point townships, sits an ordinary, one-story blue farmhouse. Nothing to get excited about. Nothing special. Just a house, like all the others up and down the rural routes of back-road Missouri.
Do not be deceived. Here there be treasure.
This sign goes with that house. My mother’s father and uncle, Aubrey and Marvin, inherited this land from their father, a man I know as “Mr. Durst,” and established the Durst Bros. Farm in 1935. But the land’s been in the family for over a century, and it now swells the ranks of Missouri’s Century Farms, the 84th of its kind in Bates County.
But the story doesn’t begin there. In Bates County terms, my family is OG. We go back, all the way to Balthasar (pronounced Ball-thay-zer), who arrived in the area in the very late 1850s. At first glance, this may not seem so significant. And it wouldn’t be, were it not for General Order No. 11.
After William Quantrill’s sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, on August 21, 1863, in an attempt to root out Quantrill’s raiders and their Jayhawker rivals, Brigadier General Thomas Ewing ordered the burning of Bates, Cass, Jackson, and parts of Vernon Counties, and the evacuation of all inhabitants. Until 1866, Bates County stood a wasteland, and even when people began trickling back in, few of the original settlers returned.
The Dursts came back. 111 years later, when I was born, they were still there, and going strong. This is my legacy, and this is but part of the story of that apparently inconsequential farmhouse on the south side of Highway F, at the meeting of two townships.
As I wander the back roads of our nation, where the forgotten history lives, this thought persists in the recesses of my mind, the driving force behind my journey:
Nothing is inconsequential.
Every place has its story: every home, every outbuilding, every bend in the road itself. History unfolds (has unfolded) around us, through us, in us, every day, with every step we take.
And so, I wander. And I wonder. I pass anonymous dwellings filled with meaningful lives, and I wonder what those stories might contain. None of the big stuff matters–the wars, the treaties, the shifting of the global balance of power–none of this matters unless we feel these smaller stories deep in our bones. Unless we realize that these stories, unknown to us as they may be, are inseparable from our own.
So, as you wander your roads, don’t dismiss as incidental the strangers in your path. Embrace them. You are traveling through a maze of stories waiting to be told–the lives of others, the key to your own.
Happy travels, my friends!!
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Careful.”